Nestled in a small cutout of the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont is a town named Lincoln. The very epitome of a small town, Lincoln, is home to around 1,200 people, depending on the season. It’s far enough off the highway that during the winter months, there’s limited traffic coming into town.
Fall is a different story.
Once the weather starts cooling, the northeast becomes a popular destination for “leaf peepers,” people coming to get a look at the changing leaves. This kind of change may be a minor attraction in some areas, but for Vaneasa Stearns, owner of the Lincoln General Store, it’s always been big business.
Stearns grew up in Lincoln, and got an early start in capitalizing on the leaf peeper trade. As a young girl, she would spend hours by the roadside selling maple syrup to visitors. After some time away, Stearns decided at 26 that she would establish roots in her hometown for good. She and her husband Dan set out to buy the town’s general store.
“I waddled into the National Bank of Middlebury just about ready to give birth to my daughter, told them my dream and asked if they would help me build my home and buy my store,” Stearns said.
Twenty-eight years later, Stearns isn’t an elected official, but you can be sure she knows what’s going on in town. She will often answer questions about locating a nice swimming hole, help a hunter weigh in a bear or a deer at her store, or assist visitors with directions and information about foliage viewing hot spots.
“Lincoln has always been a place that visitors have come to get a taste of Vermont, and the store remains a meeting place for locals,” Stearns said.
A lot has changed over the years, but fall business has not. If anything, it’s grown.
“The leaves have always been beautiful here,” Stearns said. “The secret about this town and what it has to offer is finally public, thanks to social media.”
With a scenic draw like the Green Mountain National Forest, Stearns always sees an uptick in business this time of year. “I think it is safe to say that our customers come from all corners of the country and beyond,” Stearns said.
She can’t put an exact figure on it, but her store is only a 40-minute drive from Burlington, and 70 million people are just a day’s drive away.
Even with an iconic attraction like New England foliage, Stearns said people come throughout the year for everything from winter sports like skiing and snowmobiling to camping, hiking, fishing, hunting—and of course—leaf peeping.
Stearns said she’s most grateful for the relationships she’s been able to form. And while being open every day, serving visitors from all over, can be exhausting; she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m so blessed having all these great people in my life, Stearns said. “I have always felt the store would be the best sitcom!”